Where is Abingdon?

Across the valley from our rural rehearsal venue

One of my first loves is choral singing. My friends know they’ll find me raising my voice in different venues throughout the year, such as my local church choir, the annual Handel’s Messiah community sing, the Skagit Symphony Orchestra at least once a year, and various cities around the country. Two such special experiences included singing at Carnegie Hall, a truly unexpected opportunity, I never expected. More recently, I’ve discovered  Road Scholar Choral Participation programs that involve singing. (To check them out, go to https://www.roadscholar.org.

This past year was my first attendance in tiny Abingdon, VA, population, approximately 8,200, and home to the wonderful Barter Theatre (www.bartertheatre.com). If you live within range and haven’t enjoyed its offerings, do yourself a favor and take in a show there. You won’t regret it. Do these names—Gregory Peck, Kevin Spacey, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Larry Linville—ring a bell? They’ve all played there.  Their pictures are on a wall near the gift shop.

Back to Abingdon. This particular musical experience included learning songs in Spanish, Latin, and Quetzal, as well as English, and included tunes from the sixteenth century as well as more modern pieces, including a special arrangement of “They Dance Alone,” by Sting. The singers, many of whom return year after year, were especially welcoming when I finally wandered in after three flights and a small shuttle ride across the Tennessee-Virginia line.

The director, Andrew Walker, was a fabulous find, knowledgeable, skilled at bringing out our best efforts, and appreciative of even the most off-the-wall comments during rehearsals.  We probably laughed almost as much as we sang. As one who’s always believed that laughter is one of the most healing of medicines, I have to say that my time in Abingdon was a delightful way to improve my mental health.

We sang 5-6 hours/day. Non-singers might think that’s too much, but singers love to sing and our rehearsals did include breaks.

What made Abingdon even more special was the celebration of one couple’s first wedding anniversary. They exchanged wedding vows last year at this same venue with many of the same singers in attendance. I don’t know how many other Road Scholar events have included a wedding, but that this one did speaks to how special this group is for its participants, at least half of whom include new people each year. I count myself among those who have recently discovered this group and who intend to return.

If you’re interested in this and other groups, look us up in the Road Scholar offerings for the month of November. Even if you have to come from more than 2,5000 miles away, as I did, you won’t regret it.

Thanksgiving: Moroccan-Style

Dinner table
Dinner table
Date-Almond Truffles - yum!
Date-Almond Truffles – yum!

Thanks can be given any number of ways and celebrated with all manner of great company (small groups or large) and fabulous foods. I’ve had traditional meals including turkey and all the trimmings. But this year, we set the turkey aside when my son and daughter-in-law opted to use recipes with a Moroccan flavor. The result was an unforgettable feast.

The main disk was tagine chicken, cooked in a special pot of the same name. The chicken was garnished with slices of lemon, olives, garlic, cilantro, onions, paprika, cumin, and saffron, as well as lemon zest. The sauce created in the pot was as flavorful as the chicken.

The tagine pot was used in the oven to bake the chicken. When removed from the oven, the pot continues to cook the food within. A tiny hole about halfway up the side of the top which resembles a hat (see it in the picture) allows the steam to escape while retaining the heat. Any liquids surrounding the meat are retained and become a delicious sauce that soaks up nicely with pieces of bread.

A raw carrot salad with the carrots slivered thinly included fresh lemon juice, parsley, cinnamon, cumin, paprika and some agave nectar (honey could as easily be used instead). My son added raisins for a dash of additional color.  The cool carrots next to the hot chicken made for variety that tickled my taste buds.

In addition, we had fresh-baked bread still warm from the oven. We garnished the bread with sesame seeds in keeping with the Moroccan theme. Each of us received an individual round of bread, even though the recipe I used for the bread was one I’ve made for more than three decades. The only change I made was to punch down the dough for a second rising and then roll each section (in this case, three) into a round before flattening it again to about one-half inch high and approximately three-four times the diameter of the round prior to flattening. We then covered the bread with a cloth before baking in the oven for about 20 minutes instead of the usual 35 for a regular loaf at 375⁰.

According to my son, the pièce de résistance was date-almond truffles, which paste was rolled in coconut. Orange blossom water added a unique flavor to the truffles. White wine for me and red wine for them completed the meal before we ended it with our favorite teas.

The three Moroccan dishes can be found online. A favorite source is http://cookingwithalia.com.  Her presentations are cheery and fun and the food spoke for itself—delicious, out-of-the-ordinary, and a perfect alternative to the typical turkey dinner, although turkey could have been used instead in the tagine pot.  The big difference would be the combination of spices used. I, for one, really like the lemony hints in both the carrot salad and the main dish.  And limiting the fare to those two dishes and the bread meant we weren’t so stuff that we couldn’t enjoy ourselves the rest of the day.

To-Do Lists

Kate ValeI’m in shock! I prepared a “to-do” list yesterday, the better to organize both my thoughts and my writing work schedule. That list now exceeds four pages!

Have I been laying back lately, playing instead of working? Or am I simply anticipating what I want to accomplish before the holidays and family obligations intervene?

In checking over that list—which may become longer before items can be crossed off with a satisfying “so there!”—I discovered that numerous items are not in themselves big jobs. It’s just that there are so many. Thus, the entirety of the list is off-putting.

My garden calls, the bulbs need planting, and the sun is out. But although I yearn to grab my spade and head outside, that dratted “to-do” list glowers. Get to it, it repeats, a litany that threatens to overwhelm my desire to take a break.

A friend just called and I admitted my schizophrenic urgings to be two places at once—outside and inside, planting my bulbs, completing and then shortening the everlasting list.

Oh, joy! What I couldn’t do for myself has been provided by another.

I now have permission to take a break in favor of the bulbs, knowing the inside chores will get done later today or perhaps even tomorrow and throughout the week. The garden needs my attention before I can put it to bed for the season under a warm pile of mulch.

Bye-bye, list! I’ll see you later.

My Characters: I Can’t Let Them Go

Someone at a recent writer’s conference reminded me of something that I thought was a personal problem. After the book is finished, I miss talking to my characters, thinking about them, wanting to know more about them, imagining how their life thread will spool out after the story is over. I can’t seem to get these people out of my head.

Suzanna in Dream Chaser continues to remind me that second chances at love can occur, and remaining open to the possibility is something I should consider. Gillian in Gillian’s Do-Over repeated the same message, even as her son—unlike mine—tried to run her life instead of trusting that Gillian could take care of herself. Her white-water rafting adventure was far less fun for her than it was for me when I tried my hand at avoiding getting thrown out of a raft. But having experienced it meant it was easy to imagine her there.

Another single title, Package Deal, allowed me to relive through Amanda what it’s like to be a newly-minted college professor, intent on building a career while raising a child. In Amanda’s case, two men complicate her life, one I loved to hate (Carlton), I adored (Marcus). And so does spunky nine-year-old Cecelia, who is convinced from their first meeting that handsome Marcus would make the perfect dad. After all, like her, he has blue eyes!

Dannilynn in Concealed Attractions, a New Adult Novel, allowed me to relive how scary college can be when one is away from home for the first time and how events there can impact one’s life far into the future. Making her home on an island, set apart from the more sophisticated mainland, mirrored how her family sheltered her. Thus began the Cedar Island Tales series.

Meeting long-time lovers Joel Taylor and Angela Wright in that same story compelled me to focus on their evolving story in Heartstrings precisely because I wanted to know if they would ever get together again and, later, if they could weather what often is thought to destroy marriages. Theirs is an example of the statistic that most marriages—after such betrayal—remain intact.

Jane in Family Bonds, another New Adult Novel, was the compilation of several young women I knew in college who had to go it alone following their parents’ death, and who then found love but lost it when they unearthed unexpected, often ugly, family secrets. Jane deserved a happy life in the face of those discoveries and the support Chet provided endeared him to me. I so wanted them to be happy, which is why their story ends with an unexpected twist. In Family Bonds, I also fell in love with the delightful little town of Evergreen, Washington—a fictional place that became the setting for the On Geneva Shores series, where so many different characters have added flavor to the town.

A friend encouraged me to write what I know and at the time, I was still deeply involved in the real estate industry. Evergreen seemed the perfect place to explore one realtor’s experience. Thus was born Granddad’s House, set in various neighborhoods of Evergreen, where Olivia Brown, a real go-getter realtor, thinks she has life by the tail until she agrees to list and sell her beloved grandfather’s home. The man who intrudes in her dreams and her office, Beau James, swept me off my feet, too, when he entered that big Victorian. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him, wishing at times I’d met someone like him: Southern accent, sparkling eyes, and all.

Olivia and Beau were such a great couple that I was compelled to follow Sally, Olivia’s best friend, and Paul, Beau’s younger brother, in Just Friends when several women I know—nearly all survivors of breast cancer—begged me to tell their story through Sally’s eyes. I couldn’t let her miss out on the life she’d always wanted and feared she’d never have.

Melanie in Choices was brought to life again after a brief introduction in Granddad’s House because I couldn’t leave real estate agents alone, particularly those new to that particular game. Her children, too, like so many of the younger set in my stories, captivated me. Melanie’s teens and her 5-year-old tagalong enabled her to experience a happily-ever-after with Sam, the detective with a heart of gold, who was just too darn slow to propose. Thank goodness for Jeffrey’s “goof” in stating his and his siblings’ unanimous decision!

The men in my novels have intrigued readers and several have asked me what I thought of them. Jonathan in Dream Chaser was the kind of man—a rancher and an academic—whose complexities immediately captured me. That he was good-looking was an added bonus. I’ve already mentioned southern charmer, Beau. His brother, Paul, was less a romantic heartthrob than someone whose demons drew me closer as he struggled to heal, emotionally and physically. Then there was Matt in Gillian’s Do-Over. Sigh. Another man I’d love to meet in real life. He had to deal with big issues, too. Fortunately, Gillian took the initiative when I was afraid he would hesitate. And, in spite of his big mistake, Joel Taylor remains a favorite of mine. He’s always worn his heart on his sleeve when it comes to Angela and his children. He’d die for them, those sweet twins and baby Grace.

Which brings us to my most recent book, Safe Beside You, soon to be published. Like me, Carrie thought she knew what she wanted in a relationship with a man. Brian’s friendship kindles feelings that cause her to question her future. I could easily see Brian’s shoes under my bed. But will she?

My characters are a part of me. They live on in my head, prompting questions yet to be explored in future stories with new characters not yet identified or only briefly mentioned in previous stories. The ones that appear in more than one title are a clue to those men and women I feel most close to, even as those in the single titles remain cherished friends. Perhaps they, too, will surface elsewhere.

Why is the Canyon GRAND?

Grand Canyon
Its age? Its height from the river to the highest point on the North Rim? Its width from the South to the North Rim? The spectacular night sky? The ever-changing colors and shadows? That consarned fog that hid and then brilliantly lifted/separated to reveal the jewel that was the Canyon? Getting lost when tramping back from the South Rim and wandering into the wrong parking area?

All of the above added to my recent experience at the Grand Canyon, but what really made it wonderful was the people I met: most but not all retired; Cowgirl Ms. P, who almost missed the bus when she spotted a nearby Starbucks at a rest stop; the goat-raiser; the former New Jerseyite now enjoying the west coast of Florida; the Texans; the Coloradans worried about the recent Boulder floods; the Swede whose lilting speech immediately transported me back to my visit in 1999 to Uppsala and the wonderful cathedral whose pipe organ rattled my bones; and so many other memorable people. Our “fearless leaders,” Jeff and Dave, were both patient and firm as we, their charges, wandered (like non-herdable cats) whenever the vans stopped or they walked with us to the Rim, and sometimes over it! This particular Road Scholar adventure moved to the top of the list of similarly-sponsored adventures I’ve enjoyed.

Persons who’ve never been to the Canyon may want to consider exploring its challenges while enjoying the myriad views. The book I purchased: Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon (by Ghiglieri and Myers) continues to confound me with the stupidity of people who should know better even as it makes clear the risks that too many visitors have unwittingly ignored and, as Jeff once remarked, “died to regret it.” We saw examples of such carelessness several times, as when several women and men posed beyond the fencing and/or walls for that “perfect” picture or raced along the trails when a steady walk would have accomplished the same goal without risking an inadvertent stumble followed by a looonnnnngggg fall over the side. One such recounting in the book made me wonder if the gentleman who fell 1200 feet thought himself a bird without wings before he made fatal contact with the stones.

Our occasional encounters with the birds (the condor at Navaho Bridge comes to mind) and the animals of the Canyon (especially the mule deer and elk) also added to our engagement with the place. I continue to chuckle at the encounter of the field mouse who thought there was safety under one bed in a cabin on the North Rim until the squeals of one of our members urgently encouraged it to go elsewhere.

Spectacular sunrises were exclaimed over by those early-risers determined to take them in. I prefer to remember the rainbow we caught while hiking along the South Rim, and the sunset while dining on the North Rim. In short, the colors amazed, whether they were created by the sun on the rocks, the shadows on same, or the ever-changing sky, with or without the rainclouds that created rushing rust-colored water in the washes we crossed.

The canyon, visible from space, is indeed GRAND up close, too. There’s just no other word that even begins to do it justice.

Giving Back

In this the first year anniversary of my adventure in independent publishing, I am swimming in gratefulness:for the readers who have read my books–especially those who have provided reviews and ratings of same; for the readers who call themselves fans and who have told me they eagerly await each new title (have they seen the newest in the ON GENEVA SHORES series, entitled Choices, now available on Amazon.com and also on Kobobooks.com?); for my friends and acquaintances, who have been unstintingly encouraging as I explore what it’s like to be a writer; and, for those individuals I consider my consultants, whose expertise has provided me with sufficient information to avoid major errors when including certain technical elements in my stories.

This is the month I have also made a first contribution to the American Cancer Society as a result of the sales of the two books that include characters who battled cancer. While the check is not huge, I was happy to send it on, knowing in that small way, I’ll be contributing to the research to find cures and perhaps even preventive measures against these diseases.

It has been a rough-and-tumble year, one in which I’ve learned lots and am eager to learn more, even as I continue working toward my goal of ten books published by the end of 2013.

Foremost in that quest is putting each title out in paperback in addition to their ebook configurations.

What else can I say? “Thank you” seems inadequate, even as I say it loudly. Thank you, anyway.

The Next Big Thing

A local writer and friend, Pamela Beason, invited me to participate in this online “blog-hop.” This is my first such attempt at this exciting event. I’ll begin with a few questions I’m to answer:

What is the working title of your book? Granddad’s House is my sixth independently-published title, and the second in a series set in Evergreen, Washington. I anticipate that the next title in this series, Just Friends, will come out later this month.

Where did the idea come for the book? I spent 14 years as a realtor and met and assisted many different buyers and sellers. Every such transaction presented unique issues, problems, and solutions. I decided to explore some of those issues.

What genre does your book fall under? Granddad’s House is contemporary women’s fiction with strong romantic elements. It explores what happens when a realtor intent on selling her grandfather’s house–and the place where she spent so much time as a child–even though her late father warned her against doing so. A realtor must bring objectivity to every transaction, and Olivia is too emotionally attached to do so. Making matters worse is her granddad’s request that Olivia find a family, with children, for his house. Unfortunately, the best possible kind of sale–quick close for cash!–comes from a handsome architect who intends to turn Granddad’s house into a B&B!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Selling a relative’s home can become a near-impossible professional and personal complication.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? Granddad’s House is self-published under my press name, North Cascades Press. It can be found on Amazon and on Kobobooks.com.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft poured out in about six months. It took me another year to work it into something I wanted to publish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I read lots of authors, but one of my favorites if JoAnn Ross. She, too, deals with sometimes difficult issues while entwining those elements with romantic opportunities. I especially like her title, One Summer.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? The recommendation of a reader of one of my other stories encouraged me to write a story about a realtor after I shared several funny and/or awkward situations I’d experienced.  I was reluctant to do so, fearing I would be too close to the main character to create a story others would like. But, after I began the story, it became easy to write.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? The complications that Olivia experiences–both personal and professional–tie her in knots. Her relationship with her grandfather both soothes and infuriates her when he decides that Beau is the man for her–in spite of Olivia’s insistence that he is SO not her type. When Granddad faces a major health crisis, Beau is there for Olivia, even as she supports him when his younger brother is injured in Afghanistan. The final question is: how can she set aside her guilt and accept what Granddad wants for her?

There you have it: my answers.

CSI is not as you might think

Because I have been interested in what is shown on TV in different CSI shows, I took advantage of an opportunity recently to spend a few days with a crime scene investigator. In a word, what in on television is not at all a true reflection of what happens in the real world. Fiction requires that answers be found quickly, and often easily. Real crime scenes are fraught with too many hands touching what shouldn’t be touched, footprints where feet should not be walking, and even placing crime scene tape too close to the scene itself. While working with the investigator, I and my fellows learned how to pull fingerprints off both smooth and more difficult surfaces. Even my clean shoes provided an excellent example of how to lift a footprint from flooring, even when one did not see a footprint. We also learned why a crime scene investigator would never interview a suspect unless that person is first and foremost a detective who’s been secondarily trained to obtain evidence at the scene.  Nor do most CSI’s carry guns.

In spite of learning how fictional those TV shows really are, knowing the writers probably ignored the consultants’ recommendations (and maybe even their frowns when “the story arc” trumped reality) has not ruined my enjoyment of those shows. Instead, I now concentrate on other aspects of the story as I lose myself in the fantasy presented.

I am a serial careerist!

What is retirement? Am I now retired? The question arises out of my most recent action, in which I chose—a key word, I think—to stop doing what I had been doing in favor of other work that has occupied only a portion of my waking day, but numerous dream nights for several years.

Ruminating about my experience, and that of others who’ve had similar adventures, convinces me that I haven’t retired. Rather, I’m simply in my newest career.

Think about it: in my parents’ and grandparents’ time, they often began a career and ended it in the same business or occupation. If changes occurred, it was to climb the ladder from a junior to a more senior position. But they continued to be defined by that same occupation.

Among my peers, a different pattern has emerged, what I prefer to think of a serial careering. We began our working lives slinging hash or selling souvenirs at a summer job and went on to our first “real” job; that is, one that had at least an inkling of a future that included more pay and benefits and a climbing of the corporate, or similar, ladder. Whoohoo!

Many of us, however, also learned—often, the hard way, as we endured recessions and cutbacks—that working for the same employer was unlikely to be our life experience. Some of us began second, third, or fourth jobs with other employers, often in occupations unrelated to where we first began. And still others of us decided to create our own futures in our own businesses, one of the reasons why small business is the rule rather than the exception in these United States.

So, where does that leave us? With serial careers, which we will continue to enjoy far into the future, well past the usual retirement birthday of sixty, or sixty-two, or sixty-five, or later.

I now count myself among those who have enjoyed a series of occupations. I’m on my fifth and am happy to report that each of my career experiences informs my view of the world. A bonus: my fictional characters’ occupations are often ones I, too, have enjoyed at one time or another!

A Thumbnail Sketch of my Trip to India

The beautiful Taj Mahal

I was remiss in January, after returning from a fabulous trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and four different areas of India to share my thoughts about the trip.  Nearly a year late, here is a thumbnail of what I saw and how I was affected by it.

People often think of India as a country plagued by illness or disease and way too many people. I have to admit that the traffic in Mumbai (with about 16 million people) was daunting. Particularly scary (but also kind of fun) was riding in a three-wheeled vehicle in traffic that seemed to be controlled by the incessant honking of horns. However, the malls in many cities were too much like that found in US cities and included brand names any American pre-teen would recognize and gravitate to. I preferred indigenous Indian fare, which I found more interesting.

This picture shows thousands of people walking to and from the area where we were required to remove our shoes. It was holiday-time and I suspect that the Taj Mahal is visited by as many people throughout the year. The architecture was spectacular inside and out.

Also of interest to me was the museum exploring Mahatma Gandhi’s life work, housed in the home in which he was born in Mumbai. I learned of his views and read his writings–many opinions far ahead of his time, including his views on the importance of equality for women in a society where it was rarely practiced during his lifetime.

A Western-educated person might assume that the major inventions and scientific breakthroughs occurred in the European cities and those, more recently, in North America.  I learned that major mathematical understandings were written about in India three thousand years earlier!  Why were they not shared with the rest of the world? My theory is that such sharing did not move from south to north, but rather from east to west.

India has a burgeoning middle class that has spurred major changes throughout this huge country. Not least among the changes is the elimination in the last 18 months of endemic poliomyelitis, which for so many years was a scourge, paralyzing thousands and killing many of its victims. Only three countries throughout the world are still plagued by this preventable disease. India is no longer one of them.

Would I return? Yes! It’s a country far too large to see in one visit, even one of several weeks. My advice? Limit yourself to a few key cities and spend several days in each, the better to enjoy the unique flavors of the foods in each area and the many sites that truly reflect the culture.